Official figures do not exist for how many sleep rough in the French capital each night, though Paris intends to carry out a census on February 15. Parisians are used to seeing people huddled in doorways and sleeping in makeshift shelters on the roadside.
With nighttime temperatures expected to drop as low as -7 degrees Celsius this week, city authorities have rolled out a cold weather response which involves opening up places in municipal buildings and more frequent patrols.
“Obviously this cold snap worries us a great deal because there are lots and lots of people in the street and of course we have to get them into shelters because right now it’s dangerous and there is a risk of dying for all of those people,” said Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.
In the Romain Rolland Homeless Shelter on the southern fringes of the capital, there are no more beds.
The center, run by the Samu Social de Paris has space for 99, with roughly half the places given over to emergency admissions every evening via a telephone hotline and the other half to semi-permanent residents.
“When you get out of the car or up from the bench or whatever it’s cold, cold. I was lucky enough to live in a car but for people who are outside, even in a sleeping bag, it’s really not great,” said Patrick, a 72-year-old resident of the homeless shelter.
Those who are given one of the emergency places have to leave the shelter by 11 a.m. the following day.
“It sucks. It’s horrible. The weather is the worst thing. It rains, you want to cry. It’s the hardest, painful thing like sleeping under the rain because it’s not possible and your clothes get wet. You cannot judge someone. You cannot judge a homeless person unless you become homeless. It’s completely different,” said Parham Ghayour, a 28-year-old homeless man originally from Iran.
The city hall said that it has opened up 1,500 overnight places since December and has added more beds in local council buildings and sports halls since Monday when temperatures dipped further.
Shelter manager Pierre Joubert said he appreciated the effort being made by the authorities but that such temporary solutions were not the answer in the long-term, pointing out that many if not more people die unnoticed on the streets in the summer too. — Reuters